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LEONIE BRADFIELD

OCCUPATION: Global Manager, Geotechnical Engineering and Geology

MISSION: Mastering big challenges

Leonie Bradfield needs big goals—the kind that are hard to achieve. “I got that from my father, who always urged me to exceed my own expectations,” says Bradfield, who is now 38. Her dissertation is just one example of her ambition. 

After she had completed her master’s degree in geotechnical engineering while employed with Thiess, she was approached by Dr. John Simmons and Prof. Stephen Fityus, both leading figures in her field. They asked her to lead a research project for the Australian coal mining industry and offered her the opportunity to write her doctoral dissertation at their university. It was a tempting offer, even though it meant moving for a few years to Newcastle, almost 800 kilometers from Brisbane, where she was then living with her husband, and Thiess were fully supportive. 

Her task was to determine how to reliably predict the stability of very high spoil dumps. “To make these predictions, the mining industry was using outdated methods from the 1980s, when spoil dump heights were much lower,” she explains. Higher spoil dumps mean higher stress states, which can change the physical condition of the rock, and in turn affect dump stability. It was a difficult and lengthy process, but Leonie successfully developed a machine that simulated the field-scale shearing process, thus conducting a stress test of sorts. She called the machine “Big John” in memory of her late father. By now international companies have also started paying attention to “Big John.” 

What’s more, during this phase she also gave birth to her first child, far from her family and every other kind of support. She admits that this was a difficult experience, but she’s not afraid of tough situations. Even during her leisure time, she loves meeting challenges. For example, she’s a passionate runner in unspoiled natural settings, preferably before sunrise. At the moment, she’s training for an ultramarathon in the Australian outback. This will mean running 156 kilometers in four days, in scorching heat, on sand. Most people wouldn’t even think of participating. But Leonie regards it as yet another opportunity to exceed her own expectations.